Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the corporation

Number of voters:



  Double return. POPHAM and PRYNNE seated, 16 May 1661 
15 Nov. 1669SIR FRANCIS POPHAM vice Prynne, deceased 
27 Nov. 1669SIR WILLIAM BASSETT vice Alexander Popham, deceased17
 Thomas Rosse8
 Sir Thomas Bridges3
20 Apr. 1675SIR GEORGE SPEKE, Bt. vice Sir Francis Popham, deceased19
 Edward Neville8
 Sir Edward Greaves, Bt.2
 Henry Bridges 
 John Harrington1
18 Aug. 1679SIR GEORGE SPEKE, Bt.21
 Sir William Bassett14
 Maurice Berkeley, Visct. Fitzhardinge7
21 Feb. 1681MAURICE BERKELEY, Visct. Fitzhardinge18
 Sir George Speke, Bt.13
 Sir Walter Long, Bt.13
21 Mar. 1685MAURICE BERKELEY, Visct. Fitzhardinge 
 MAURICE BERKELEY, Visct. Fitzhardinge9
 Sir Walter Long, Bt.3
 John Langton1
 Sir Edward Neville1

Main Article

Although as a rising spa and fashionable resort Bath had closer connexions with the great world than the ordinary West of England clothing town, all its Members in this period came from local gentry families. In 1660 the corporation, consisting of 20 common councilmen and eight aldermen, returned two Presbyterian Royalists, Alexander Popham and William Prynne, without opposition. On 18 Feb. 1661 most of the corporation offered to re-elect the sitting Members, and when some ‘great men’ recommended two Cavaliers, Sir Charles Berkeley I and Sir Thomas Bridges of Keynsham, the mayor replied that they were pre-engaged. Bridges, however, complained to Secretary Nicholas that Prynne and Popham, ‘persons notorious enough for their actions in the late rebellion, ... still court the populacy for their applause by their pretended supporting of their liberties’, and asked for an order-in-council to replace Ford, the returning officer, by Captain Henry Chapman, ‘an old, honest Cavalier’, who commanded the city militia. Ford was summoned to London to answer charges of disaffection, and during his absence Chapman obtained custody of the precept. But the Privy Council dismissed the charges on 2 Apr., and the mayor ‘returned more speedily than expected and appointed the election for Good Friday’. Although the franchise had been confined to the aldermen and common councilmen ‘time out of mind’, Chapman demanded a poll of the freemen, and when this was refused ‘commanded a drum to be beaten in a tumultuous manner in several parts of the city to summon in all the freemen ... and made many of them drunk’. Twenty of the corporation voted for Popham and Prynne, and only one for Berkeley. Although Chapman procured the signatures of two aldermen, five common councilmen, and 32 freemen to an indenture in favour of Berkeley and Bridges, the House seated their rivals on the merits of the return. Prynne quotes further proceedings in committee, when the right of election was debated and witnesses heard on both sides, but Berkeley lost interest when opposition to his return at Heytesbury ceased, and no further report was made on the merits of the election. Local excitement took longer to subside. The irrepressible Chapman stood for the mayoralty in the autumn, and procured an order from Bridges and Sir Hugh Smith for the arrest of nine supporters of the rival candidate, Parker. Sir William Bassett, at the head of a troop of the Somerset militia, carried them off to Ilchester gaol, where they were joined four days later, when Chapman found himself still unsure of a majority, by two of their colleagues. Prynne, as recorder, procured an order-in-council for the release of the prisoners and the cancellation of Chapman’s election, the King declaring his displeasure that the militia had been used to strengthen a faction. When, however, Prynne lectured the corporation on the dangers of a divided city, he had not progressed in his precedents beyond the reign of Edward III before Chapman interrupted ‘with very uncivil language’, telling him that he ‘deserved to lose his head where he lost something else’, and was accordingly removed from the bench and replaced as captain of militia by Prynne’s brother-in-law. But the passing of the Corporations Act in December alerted the dominant party to their danger. In vain they gave the King a wedding present of £100 in gold; the commissioners visited Bath in October 1661, and, though details are lacking, it is known that Prynne was replaced by the Cavalier Lord Hawley (Francis Hawley), and that Chapman became the next mayor. The remodelled corporation was not long in manifesting their dislike of the sitting Members by resolving that no provision should be made for parliamentary wages.1

But these repeated snubs could not destroy Prynne’s goodwill towards Bath, and he was undoubtedly responsible for suggesting that advantage should be taken of the visit of the Duchess of Monmouth. Although the baths failed to cure her lameness, she procured the transfer of quarter sessions from Taunton, and the corporation made belated reparation to Prynne by electing him recorder for the third time in place of Hawley, who ‘hath not opportunity to attend’. Both Prynne and Popham died soon afterwards. The former was replaced by Popham’s son without a contest, but 12 days later there were three candidates. Bassett having an absolute majority over Bridges and Monmouth’s secretary, Thomas Rosse. All could probably be regarded as court supporters. But a government attempt to win the second seat on the death of the younger Popham was decisively rejected when Sir George Speke, for the country party, overwhelmed the recorder and future judge, Edward Neville, and the court physician, Sir Edward Greaves. Bridges’s son Henry revived the freemen’s claim to the franchise, but his petition was not reported. In February 1679 the sitting Members were re-elected, almost without opposition, but in August three polls were required before Sir Walter Long, the candidate of the ‘factious party’, ousted Bassett by one vote, apparently a proxy. Aghast at their own temerity in thus returning two exclusionists, the corporation expelled an alderman for scandalous words against the Duke of York and produced an address in May 1680 approving the Duke’s recall, utterly detesting all tumultuous petitions and promising to maintain and defend his Majesty and all his lawful successors in their prerogatives and rights. The people might welcome Monmouth ‘with very great demonstrations of joy and affection’, but the electors thought very differently. An analysis of the corporation showed only two ‘fanatics’ among the aldermen, and two frequenters of conventicles among the common councilmen, John Sherston, ‘a damnable anti-monarchical man’ and another, ‘his wholly devoted creature’. In 1681 Speke and Long lost their seats to Bassett and Lord Fitzhardinge and further loyal addresses followed. Sherston, ‘a most busy, pestilent Presbyterian’ who had described Strafford and Laud as two of the greatest rogues in the kingdom, was expelled from the corporation, and on 10 Nov. 1684 it was unanimously resolved to surrender the charter.2

An offer of £100 from Charles Fox towards the expenses of the new charter was refused, and in 1685 Fitzhardinge, who had been nominated high steward, was returned unopposed with Bassett. The corporation reacted cautiously to the Declaration of Indulgence, but a rival address from ‘the freemen and inhabitants’ undertook to elect Members pledged to the King’s ecclesiastical policy. On 20 Dec. 1687 James was told that ‘Bath will not choose any but such as shall be approved of by the King; so there will need no change in that corporation’. But in the following March Chapman and six others were removed by order-in-council, and in April the royal electoral agents reported that the corporation proposed to choose Oliver Nicholas and Bassett, ‘who are both right; but if your Majesty be not satisfied with these, they will choose such as your Majesty will recommend’. In July the corporation congratulated the King on the birth of the Prince of Wales, for which some of the credit at least was claimed by the spa. But in August Fitzhardinge was replaced by the Roman Catholic Lord Waldegrave, and two aldermen and two of the common council were also removed. The court candidates, however, remained unchanged. When the old charter was restored on 24 Oct., Walter Gibbs, a ‘huffish’ alderman but a lover of the established government, was confirmed as mayor, and Sherston was restored to the corporation. On 13 Dec. it was resolved by 17 votes to 8 to obliterate ‘the crown of thorns and other superstitious things on the cross bath’, where Mary of Modena had received such beneficial effects. At the general election of 1689 Bassett and Fitzhardinge were re-elected to the Convention against negligible opposition from Long and the Presbyterians.3

Author: Irene Cassidy


  • 1. Collinson, Som. Bath 19, 22-25; W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria (1662), iii. 297-8, 314-40; CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 544; Add. 1660-85, pp. 30-31; PC2/55/192, 385, 419; Bath council bk. 2, pp. 239, 257-8, 273-6, 289, 325, 341; SP29/413/57.
  • 2. Bath council bk. 2, pp. 491, 513, 515, 661, 762, 771-2, 798, 812, 904; CSP Dom. 1667-8, p. 534; 1668-9, pp. 113-14; 1679-80, p. 475; Jan.-June 1683, pp. 60, 191; CJ, ix. 365; SP29/413/57; Luttrell, i. 93; London Gazette, 30 Mar. 1682.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1684-5, p. 239; 1687-9, p. 276; SP44/335/371; Bath council bk. 3, pp. 1, 6, 59-60, 69, 82, 86; London Gazette, 25 Aug. 1687, 30 July, 9 Aug. 1688; Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 16, 229, 243; PC2/72, pp. 616, 701, 706, 732; SP29/413/57.